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“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs”

Should you use adverbs in your copy?

Welcome to the 64th issue of Write On!

The newsletter that’s currently on the way to Myrtle Beach for a golf trip.

In today’s issue I’ll be covering:

  • The complete writing workspace

  • How to create a compelling story that moves people

  • Should you use adverbs in your copy?

Estimated read time: 2 minute 15 seconds

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“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs”

One of Stephen King’s most famous quotes.

Yes, it’s polarizing, but there’s truth in it. Even though there are also exceptions.

What does Stephen mean?

Beginner writers tend to pack as much as possible into one sentence, hoping it will evoke some kind of feeling or reaction.

Experienced writers avoid adverbs and adjectives because they’re less forceful than nouns and verbs.

But the problem isn’t the adverb itself.

It’s the meaningless adverbs that are… well… meaningless.

For example:

  • Very

  • Truly

  • Really

  • Extremely

They don’t add any new information or meaning to a sentence.

For example:

“She was extremely happy” vs “She was happy”

Either you’re happy, or you’re not. If you want to describe how happy she was, you can use more specific words such as delighted, elated, euphoric, etc.

“Okay, Joe. So you’re telling me adverbs suck? Don’t use them?”

Not exactly.

Let’s see some examples where adverbs DO add value.


(1) To change the meaning:

In the ad below, the introductory line, “Honestly now,” can be removed.

But it would change the way you read the sentence in your head. It would have a different tone.

Version without adverb: “Did you spend your youth dreaming about someday owning a Nissan or a Mitsubishi?”

That feels more like an interrogation. It’s factual.


Version with adverb: “Honestly now, did you spend your youth dreaming about someday owning a Nissan or a Mitsubishi?”

This version is friendlier. It focuses more on the unspoken truth — that you’re kidding yourself if you don’t want a fancy car.

(2) To sound human:

One well-known copywriting fundamental is to write like you’re having a conversation with your audience.

Well… when your audience uses adverbs, it just comes naturally.

Sometimes, you want to add adverbs to sound more human, not like a faceless authority.

Take this example from Tesco.

The “not much really” in the third line could’ve been “not much.”

But the addition makes it sound more informal and gives the feeling they’re not selling to you, but rather, they’re just talking to you:

Bottom line:

Use adverbs when they add to the meaning of the copy and are not empty placeholders.

💥 How to take action: Take all your copy and press “command + F” on your keyboard to find every place that you uses “-ly”

With each use case, ask yourself: “Is this adding value to my copy?”

If not, remove it.

That’s all for this week! See you next Wednesday.


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Want more copywriting tactics?

I’ve got you covered.

Here are 5 more deep dives from the Write On archives to sink your teeth into.

Never hurts to have a refresher :)

  • Do you know where your customers are? Improve the persuasiveness of your copywriting with this proven strategy: (Read now)

  • Write copy like a formula 1 racecar: How to use analogies to boost your conversion rates: (Read now)

  • 15%+ increase in revenue with 6 words: Simple words. Massive impact. (Read now)

  • How to write copy at warp-speed using frameworks and ChatGPT prompts: (Read now)

  • Forget the fruit loops and loop de loops: Learn how to use open loops in your copy: (Read now)